Thursday, 13 March 2008

Three Wikis issues - potential for abuse, cooperation and authority

I wanted to make a couple of notes and comments about four points that I've come across in my reading today.

An article by John Sutherland in the Education Guardian on 7 Feb 2007 called Something wiki this way comes makes a point which I'm starting to see recurring across various articles about web 2.0 and Wikis. It's to do with authority and the perceived threats that Wikis pose to it.

Sutherland writes:

'The Middlebury ban [on students citing Wikipedia in their academic work] provoked a predictable culture clash: on the one side the whiskery 'old' authoritarian, wielding the censor's scissors [my emphasis], and on the other, the cyber-libertarians. Think Catholic Church, think Galileo, think Index Librorum Prohibitorum.'

I'm interested in this depiction of resistance to the freedom of Wikis in such a negative, old-fashioned light. I think the dangers to authority posed by web 2.0 shouldn't be underestimated, and resistance to them shouldn't be viewed in this mocking, almost dismissive way. That's not to say that I don't think Wikis and Web 2.0 aren't great, but I also think there is a place for museums remaining the 'authority' in certain circumstances.

The other three comments regard, again, Jonathan Bowen's paper for his Wiki Software and Facilities for Museums workshop that he will give at this years Museums and the Web Conference in April.

1. I was interested in the historical overview he gave to cooperation through Wikis: 'Human beings have collaborated throughout their development from the earliest times. Without cooperation, the human race would never have survived; with cooperation, it has thrived. People are well adapted to mutual support through intelligent behaviour when need, but are less well suited to a lone existence.'

I believe this historical perspective to the opportunities that web 2.0 provides were discussed at the Museums Association conference in 2007. As Jane Finnis's blog post on the discussion says: 'UGC is not new, well its not new in the offline world. But it is new in the online worlds and is a very different kettle of fish.'

I'm interested in exploring the fact that web 2.0 and Wikis are just an extension of what museums have always done, and therefore shouldn't be viewed as radical, terrifying and threatening.

2. I was also interested in what Bowen had to say about the potential for abuse on Wikis: 'There is a risk of misuse of a wiki if it is made generally writable. This certainly does happen, but is not as large a problem as might be first envisaged. It is so easy to vandalize a wiki that there is not much incentive to do this in terms of demonstrating expertise.'

3. Was also mildly alarmed by, but also wanted to make a note of, Bowen's comment that: 'While there are many success stories with the use of wikis, it is just as likely, if not more probable, for a wiki to be unsuccessful.' Let's hope the BPMA Wiki doesn't fall into that trap!

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Blogger Sian said...

I sent many of the following to your predecessor when the Wiki project was first thought of.

Wikipedia itself has an interesting background regarding the whole authority debate, and in fact one of its original founders has created a forked project called Citizendium For his explanation of this,and many more useful articles related to Web 2.0 and collaboration, see his website:

When I did my own Museum Studies dissertation many moons ago (in technology terms anyway) I looked at a similar issue regarding what you might call 'brand trust'. I was looking at collaboration between broadcasters and museums using technology, and how this was a golden opportunity for both to provide 'trusted portals' in an environment (the Web) where anyone can publish anything. There is an interesting debate here about the effect of a wiki on brand trust.

14 March 2008 at 09:44  
Anonymous ewan said...

I think this post raises some really interesting issues around the areas of co-operation and authority; of course co-operation has always been a vital part of any human activity, from mammoth-hunting to space flight, but there has always been a need to balance group input with an authority figure, someone who is able to adjudicate on areas of dispute, make a final decision and drive the group forward. And of course there are people who get used to authority, who want it and will protect it from perceived threats, and this is where the ‘whiskery ‘old’ authoritarian’ comes in; the idea that their coveted position as the ultimate arbiters of all questions of historical importance can be challenged so directly yet so anonymously through the medium of the internet must be absolute anathema to them, the 21st century equivalent of a 16th Century Pope plagued with untraceable denials of transubstantiation and the Gospels. The heresy is there for anyone to see, but the heretic is nowhere to found and the Inquisition is denied its righteous vengeance.
A wiki could be a perfect forum to challenge accepted wisdom, to bring forward new ideas and stimulate debate and new ways of thinking about the past and how it is presented to a wider audience, the real challenge in this respect is moderation; to ensure that grossly distorted or inaccurate material does not become accepted as fact due to lack of academic rigour and proper consideration of all the available evidence.
If wikis do become as common as standard websites, the position of moderator could come to be seen as one of the most responsible and important jobs in the online world.

14 March 2008 at 12:29  
Blogger Sian said...

Another aspect of this debate it the ability of the web to perpetuate disinformation; just think about those warning emails you get that are actually long-running hoaxes. It's hard to convince people that something a lot of people have told them isn't necessarily true. There's a post about this on Musematic

20 March 2008 at 20:57  

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